A Saints Row game that isn’t a Saints Row game that wants to be a Saints Row game that FBT wishes was a Saints Row game too. Saints Row.
Agents of Mayhem is a spin-off, side-quel, alternate universe, continuation, whateva of Volition’s mighty Saint Row series. Following the ‘good’ ending to Gat out of Hell, the earth has been rebuilt only to be attacked again; it’s not the Saints behind the mayhem though, it’s super-villains L.E.G.I.O.N who destroyed every major city and government in preparation for something even more nefarious. M.A.Y.H.E.M, a group dedicated to disrupting LEGION’s plans arrive in Seoul to … disrupt their plans.
In the eighties, someone in marketing realised just because kids couldn’t see R-rated movies that doesn’t mean they couldn’t sell to them; Rambo had an animated tv show and toy-line, as did Robocop, The Toxic Avenger, even Police Academy; Alien had a toy as well (Complete with spring-action jaws) and was followed by a (Flying) Alien Queen, now with Spitting Action; Aliens even had a kids show but it never made it to air. I bet it included a baby Alien that made friends with the kid character, just like Uni in D&D and Godzooky. Man, the 80s were amorally great. Nowadays it’s different, they target the toys at adults. Sorry, collectable figurines. And that, in a beautiful tangent, is AoM; a Saturday morning cartoon version of Saints Row. Not in look – it’s clearly is intended to emulate that Filmation meets Toei style we all grew up with – but in style. It’s the bounciest, most bloodless, shiniest, inoffensive game to ever let you murder people. Apart from the occasional ‘motherfucker’ there’s no reason why an AoM playthrough couldn’t air on a Saturday morning straight after Mr.T’s tv series where he pitied the fool who took drugs.
A little like The Avengers, MAYHEM is the brainchild of Persephone. Originally one of the LEGION Supervillains, she defected and took the ‘Ark’ with her, a floating fortress where she assembled a group of mercs to end LEGION’s plans. As an Agent of Mayhem, you’re actually twelve to fifteen agents of Mayhem, including Saints Row stalwarts Pierce and Oleg and Saints Row superstars Johnny Gat and Kinzie (sold separately). The agents operate in groups of three but once in the world there’s only one active and it becomes basically the same as scrolling through weapon choices. If you’re in close-quarters swap to the tank with the shotgun; long distance enemies? Scroll to the one with the sniper-like weaponry and so on. Later groups specialise but often it’s not until you’re deep into a mission that you realise what you need now is a Roller-Derby chick with a mini-gun. Shame you brought the spunky hacker with a peashooter.
They’re all cool and have distinct personalities and one-liners, but they’re completely redundant as characters in-game, it’s purely about their weapons and powerups; once you settle on your preferred loadout, the rest never see the light of day and it’s frustrating if you take a liking to one but can’t stand their compatriots or their loadout isn’t to your playing style. If they can each ‘beam-in’ on a whim, why can’t an entire team? Why is the safety of the world hinging on three heroes out of fifteen? Not actually having one to call your own also removes you from the struggle, further making AoM feel like something you watch not play and you realise how well Mass Effect’s dirty dozen balanced it; squad-mates were cool but they were the support act; you were the hero. In AoM, everyone’s the sidekick, including you.
The agents can alter and upgrade to improve their chances via xp unlocking level-ups, or in-game objects that unlock further improvements and each has a special ability which itself can be honed, and chaining events unlocks another show-stopper ability. Problem is, with this much choice across this many characters it gets messy and confusing. We also get our very own car, which can be called whenever it suits. While you can nick cars pootling around Seoul, they’re horrible and slow compared to our own K.I.T.T car and it’s one of the best things in the game. Not just for the always positive AI who doesn’t seem to mind you constantly wrecking it, or that it’s the only cool thing on the roads, but because it’s one of the few times in AoM where you get to really cut lose and not feel like you’re playing Saints Row The Fisher Price edition.
As you scally about in Seoul, there’s standard mini missions; drive out LEGIONs troops, retake bases, claim areas. Mostly those entail Saints Row 4 reskin events – LEGION troops warp in, you smack them silly for xp, money and health drops and the more mayhem you cause the more dangerous the opponents until you reach the big mini-boss and reset your wanted level. It just feels so pleasantly familiar, a daytime version of a late-night show where you keep noticing they cut out the good bits – but fatally, when you’re not distracted by fond memories of SR, you realise there’s not a lot to Seoul. Instead of carrying on the cartoon look of the cut-scenes, the future looks like an Apple Store, all shiny and neat with no real depth or involvement and you never get stuck in, which is key to an open world game –you never get tempted to ignore the missions and have a muck about, and since there’s another twelve agents to unlock, most of the first third is finding them so you lose momentum; LEGION’s looking to rule the world, if the Agents are that cool can’t they find their own way to the Ark? Just look up, it’s big enough.
The thing is, it doesn’t seem sporting to knock AoM. It’s only here for shit and giggles, and there are a lot of giggles. It’s a solid world and everything you expect is present, Gat is an absolute highlight and clearly shows that’s where Volition’s heart is, especially in his personal mission where he takes out a squad of AI Bots all imbued with his personality, not to mention his John Woo-tacular special skill, while early Agent ‘Hollywood’ is SR3’s Josh Birk turned up to 11; he’s a lot of fun before he gets side-lined by better agents - his special move is firing grenades from his groin, how can that not be fun – and all of them are up there in terms of cool. The problem is, SR had that level of fun from the get-go and then kept layering it with jokes, set-pieces and increasingly insane behaviour from a narcissistic, anarchistic, psychopathic hero - AoM starts as a light muckabout with interchangeable playables, and never progresses. When you’re putting yourself in harms’ way by constantly playing as Kinzie and Gat instead of better suited teams, your core game is clearly not bringing it, but the biggest miss-step of AoM is there’s no Co-Op, let alone followers. How can you have fifteen agents and force you to play them one by one, not even as an on-screen team? AoM’s high-point is its characters and there’s not a dud amongst them but they’re criminally underused so to ignore a co-op/follower situation where they all get an airing is a huge misstep. I get that they’re tools to be used when necessary, but we’re MAYHEM not ORDERLY QUEUE.
In the end, you never shake the feeling this is another nutso Volition Saints Row DLC – it would have worked awesomely alongside Gat Out of Hell or Enter the Dominatrix with the Saints crew trapped in a Saturday morning cartoon. It feels like a holding game while Volition and latest step-parents Deep Silver get a grip on what to do next. What happened next is Agents of Mayhem tanked and DS laid off a ton of staff. That’s a shame, cos Volition were the only ones capable of knocking the smug smile off GTA’s face; hopefully they’ll return to 3rd Street and bring it like only the Saints know how. I miss Mayor Burt -edit- Reynolds.
2017 | Developer, Volition | Publisher, Deep Silver Platforms; Win | PS4 | XO